A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Creative Insubordination

I was reading the latest column of my local union’s president, a dirge to the decline in the satisfaction from their work that her members are getting from their work. While here in the East salaries are respectable compared to the rest of the nation, teaching that is done for a salary alone is like bread made without salt – flat. Most of my successor’s lament can be subsumed under the heading of micromanagement, that corrosive need of insecure management to interfere in the minutest aspects of the work at hand. It creates an environment in which worker morale is on an ever downward slope and conversations between workers incline towards retirement rather than professional issues.

In our best days as teacher unionists, we organized to resist the administrative impediments to enjoying our work, believing that we had a right to practice our craft in a manner that maximized our pleasure in the practice of it. When we saw that spending a period monitoring a lunchroom full of teenagers could literally ruin one’s day, we slowly and quietly stopped going, ignoring the accusatory notes we often found in our letterboxes. When summoned to meetings with building administrators to explain our absence from these duties, we took pride in explaining how we had used the time for better purposes. Warned to attend, we often did for a day or two, only to start the insubordination process all over again. The more of us who ignored the duty, the more we were positioned to have a serious conversation with management about a more appropriate use of our professional time. When I was a high school building rep, I had an honor roll bulletin board in the teachers’ cafeteria to which I pinned administrative letters of admonishment for breaking stupid rules.

Workplace problems don’t have to wait for grievances or contract negotiations. They are best soled at the most local level by organized resistance. Today’s union teachers have to learn this lesson again.

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